Matteo Renzi, Italian PM, has resigned after a heavy defeat in a referendum on the Italian Constitution. Renzi’s attempts to reform the deadlocked political system, investing more power in the Prime Minister and less in the Senate, was rejected 60-40, with a 70% turnout. Many had predicted a Renzi defeat, but few could foresee such an emphatic decision.
But what does it actually mean? Is it really further proof of the EU’s imminent demise?
In short, no. It is not. Commentators are, of course, right to keep an eye on the French presidential election in 2017. Sarkozy’s primary defeat may be cause for concern. Perhaps this ‘wave of populism’ may lead to power for Marine Le Pen. The very real prospect of her victory should send shivers down the spine of anyone with a stake in the EU’s future.
It has been rightly pointed out that this referendum was not really about Renzi’s reforms, the detail of which is dry and hardly attention grabbing in this age of visceral demagoguery. Like those who voted for Trump, Italians are crying out for help. The Italian economy has been close to failing for over a decade, and 40% of young people are unemployed. Italy, while not suffering on the scale of Spain or Portugal, sits within that strata of European nations that was instrumental in forming a peaceful settlement after the Second World War, but has been largely ignored by continental elites. So, there is considerable popular feeling against the elitism of the European Project and against the ‘diktats’ of Brussels.Yet, this referendum was not about Europe either. It was about Matteo Renzi himself – and it is this that should be most concerning.
Matteo Renzi is one of a dying breed. He is a moderate reformer, with energy, intelligence and a healthy pragmatism. Like Obama and Merkel, he has an eye for long-term solutions and a passion that often goes unnoticed. And, like these two, his ambition and agenda is in the process of being utterly rejected. It is true that his reforms invest perhaps too much power in the office of Prime Minister. But this is a man who was trying with all his energy to fix a broken system. Italian society labours under a political system that gets stuck on the most basic of legislative processes. It is a strange irony that this surge of populist, ‘anti-establishment’ feeling appears to have been mobilised against change. This is what distinguishes the Italian case.
But while our current state of flux represents very serious issues to policymakers, the result in Italy points to something far worse, and far more permanent. We are in a crisis of faith. We have lost faith – not only in politicians, which is entirely understandable, but in people of solutions. Men and women who think in the long term, who dedicate their lives to reform and renewal, who are experts. Admittedly these public servants are not common, but they do exist, and are being told by voters that they are not welcome.
It may well be true that the EU will soon cease to be. This is undoubtedly the greatest political conundrum Europeans have faced since the Second World War. Yet Italy’s referendum is a symptom of a disease that will outlast and outmaneuver the EU. We are in a state of epochal change, and no one knows where we are headed. Only people of Renzi’s capabilities and passion will be able to prevent disintegration, isolation and perhaps even inter-state violence in Europe. Ironically, this is a time for experts.
And, though we may not be able to predict the fate of the EU, the CUB team would still like to wish you a happy new year. We hope that 2017 brings solutions to the highly anticipated problems, that have deep repercussions in our society.